Freedom Foundation

Publicly-Funded Group Sponsoring Anti-Right-to-Work Agenda

A taxpayer-supported organization recently hosted a series of workshops around the state to train union members and others on how to campaign against a right-to-work law, should one be considered in Washington.  

According to its website, the Washington State Labor Council partnered with the Washington State Labor Education and Research Center (WSLERC) to hold a series of 11 workshops in Seattle, Olympia and Spokane throughout the month of January.

The stated purpose was to “explain what so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws are and how they harm not just union members, but all working families and their communities.”

Operating from South Seattle Community College, the WSLERC receives regular funding from the state, according to its website. WSLERC’s 2011-2012 Annual Report indicated that the organization received $164,000 in state funds that year. The 2012-2013 Annual Report does not specify how much state funding the center received last year.  

Materials from the workshops show labor is gearing up for a fight over right-to-work.

The materials suggest right-to-work is more likely to come in the form of an initiative campaign than legislative action. Workshop handouts offer guidance for local labor activists on how to campaign against a right-to-work initiative. Winning support in the broader community is heavily emphasized.

“Even if every union member in Washington State voted against an [sic] RTW initiative, it could still easily pass,” the handout explains.

Six main talking points are provided for anti-right-to-work activists:

  1. “RTW is an attack on the middle class because it means worse jobs and less money in our communities.
  2. RTW makes us less safe at work and in the community. It makes it harder for safety professionals like nurses and firefighters to push for the highest standards.
  3. RTW is misleading – they say it’s about more job [sic] and freedom, but that’s not true.
  4. RTW is another power grab by greedy corporations. It’s in the interests of the 1%, not the majority of us.
  5. RTW will make economic inequality worse for working people – more poverty, less opportunity.
  6. RTW will make it harder for working people to stand together and have a powerful voice in the fight for what’s right.”

Most of the talking points are simply boilerplate progressive sound bites with nothing to back them up. Right-to-work laws simply prevent workers from having to pay union fees in order to keep their jobs.

In reality, right-to-work laws can produce significant benefits for states that adopt them, including faster income growth, more jobs and population increases.

Right-to-work opponents frequently claim that wages are lower in right-to-work states. But this argument fails to take into account variations in the cost of living from one state to the next. Average income per person is actually higher in right-to-work states after adjusting for differences in the cost of living.

Indiana, which passed a right-to-work law in 2011, recently reported that the law helped bring 64 new companies to the state.

Fundamentally, though, right-to-work laws are about personal liberty. No individual should be forced to pay union fees as a condition of having a job. By and large, Americans seem to agree.

According to economist Richard Vedder, the number of Americans moving from union-shop states to right-to-work states is “astonishing.” In one study, Vedder pointed out that,

Census Bureau population estimate data show that more than 4.7 million Americans moved from the non-right-to-work states to right-to-work states from April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2008—on average more than one person every single minute of that eight years… this immense human movement strongly suggests that job conscious Americans prefer areas that allow more individual employment liberty than ones that do not.

In Washington, polling has indicated that over one-third of union members would opt-out of union representation if they could do so without losing their jobs.

Labor leaders recognize that forced-unionism is essential to keeping up a steady stream of income. Given a choice, workers could choose not to support the union, especially if fees pay for the political agendas and high salaries of union leadership. The handout from WSLERC’s workshops notes that dues “can be all union folks want to talk about,” and instructs activists to “pivot” away from questions about dues and back to more generic progressive talking points.

This is not the first time that the WSLERC has been caught using public funds to inappropriately advance its political agenda.

The WSLERC was initially established in 1987 at the Evergreen State College. In 2009, an internal audit conducted by Evergreen concluded that WSLERC was engaged in unethical and illegal use of public funds. The legislature cut some, but not all, of WSLERC’s funding, and the Center moved to South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown campus in 2010.

If lawmakers are looking for a way to save $164,000 per year, defunding the WSLERC’s political agenda would be a great place to start.